Bloomberg — When it comes to crime in Miami, it pays to be rich.
Take Coconut Grove, the wealthy enclave along the shores of Biscayne Bay that LeBron James, Madonna and Sylvester Stallone have called home. Police handled reports of just a little over two dozen crimes in the square mile around billionaire Ken Griffin’s $107 million waterfront estate there in the last half of 2022 — mostly offenses like car and home break-ins.
It’s not the only place where crime barely registers in Miami. There’s Coral Gables, Fisher Island and Star Island, palm-lined oases that have recently drawn wealthy transplants from Chicago, New York and San Francisco who extol its safety.
“I love the commitment that they have to the streets being safe,” Griffin, who grew up in Florida, said recently in Palm Beach, in a Bloomberg interview. “It’s hard to imagine that in Chicago.”
By Griffin’s account, Chicago had grown so unlivable that he moved the headquarters of his Citadel financial empire to Miami late last year. There’s still serious crime in the sprawling city, so much so that Griffin has given millions to help improve policing. But, in his narrative, Miami, the place whose violent history inspired Al Pacino’s Scarface and the TV series Miami Vice, is a rarity: A big American city that has little crime.
That optimism obscures a sometimes brutal reality. While crime rates are at a roughly four-decade low in Miami, the drop has clearly favored rich over poor, an analysis of calls to police shows. The number of crimes reported in the square mile slice of Coconut Grove that includes Griffin’s mansion dropped by 35%—to 29—in the last half of 2022 compared with the same period of 2020. In a smaller, less populated part of Model City, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, there were almost 200 reported crimes, down just 11% from 2020, the data shows.
“It’s easy for billionaires to rave about low crime, but anyone who lives in Miami knows that’s not necessarily true,” said Billy Corben, who directed the Netflix documentary series Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami, which explores the rise of the city’s narcotics kingpins in the 1980s.
Ultra-rich transplants can also count on resources average citizens can’t. Real estate investor Barry Sternlicht recently went on CNBC to rave about how he got slow-to-respond Miami police to help a friend involved in a car crash. Sternlicht had another friend text the mayor. “The mayor was on it in five minutes and got the police,” he said. To Corben, incidents like that underscore Miami’s economic disparity, which rivals Colombia and Angola, according to the World Bank.
“We have one of the poorest metro areas in the country, and we have concierge mayors for billionaires. That’s what we get,” Corben said.
Florida’s Republican governor and presidential hopeful, Ron DeSantis, has made crime a key talking point.
“You look at cities around this country, they are awash in crime,” DeSantis said when he announced his 2024 run with Elon Musk on Twitter last month. “In Florida, our crime rate is at a 50-year low.”
DeSantis brags that low crime rates have helped lure people by the thousands to Florida — including hedge fund titan Dan Sundheim and Griffin, who donated $18 million to Florida’s conservative candidates, more than half to DeSantis. As cities like Chicago and San Francisco struggle with far higher crime rates, the contrast with the more prosperous parts of Miami gets even starker.
But not if you’re living in Model City. On a recent afternoon, officer Lucas Pereira patrolled a sprawling public housing development in the neighborhood, which also is called Liberty City. There were seven times as many crimes reported in the area than in the the mansion-lined streets of Coconut Grove in the last half of 2022, Bloomberg’s analysis of police data shows. The median household income was $24,500 in 2021, one-seventh the income in Coconut Grove.
“We just had a shooting, right over there,” Pereira said, pointing to an alley behind a low-rise apartment building. As he cruised by row after row of boarded-up homes, he talked about the long legacy of blight, poverty and crime in Model City and nearby Overtown. The area is still is dotted with weed-covered vacant lots where buildings were razed by three days of deadly race riots in 1980.
He pulled over in a parking lot, where police routinely find stolen cars ready to be stripped. Within a roughly one-third-mile radius of Pereira’s police SUV, reported crimes included a homicide and dozens of shootings and assaults, according to the latest police call data.
Lyle Muhammad, executive director of the non-profit advocacy group Circle of Brotherhood, has spent a decade studying crime patterns in impoverished neighborhoods like Model City.
“How dare we have some people celebrate a so-called drop in crime and violence when there are areas where people live in fear of crime,” he said. His non-profit tries to reduce crime and violence by helping people get access to better city services and policing and assist young people at risk of becoming criminals.
Griffin, 54, who has a net worth of $36.6 billion, is spending heavily to bolster Miami’s crime-fighting efforts. Six specialists from the Partnership for Policing Innovation and Reform are training Miami police how to better hone data into leads. They’re part of a series of initiatives aimed at improving policing and reducing crime that Griffin has funded in Chicago and, now, in Miami, to the tune of $55 million. He’s also donated to give kids summer jobs and help people find work when they are released from prison.
There is no comparison between Chicago and Miami, he says. And, at a recent panel discussion in Palm Beach, all it took was a question about why he moved Citadel from Chicago, where he built his trading and hedge fund businesses, for the stories to flow out: Four of his employees robbed at gunpoint, another stabbed, and his own apartment building riddled with 25 bullet holes from random shooters.
There’s far less crime around the future site of Citadel’s Miami headquarters in the Brickell financial district than in Chicago, according to police reports, but it’s not entirely safe.
In the last half of 2022, people reported 224 serious crimes in the four blocks around the Brickell site. That compares with the more densely populated four-block area around Citadel’s offices in Chicago where more than 500 crimes were reported during that same period, including three sexual assaults. Some 300 crimes were reported around the future site of Citadel’s offices on New York’s Park Avenue.
Miami, like cities across the US, saw crime soar during the pandemic after having fallen for decades prior. Then, as Covid-19 waned in 2021, homicides began falling again and are now down roughly 85% from a record 300 in the early 1980s, when a rash of cocaine trafficking-related killings led Miami to be called Murder City. Baltimore, a similar sized city, had 333 homicides in 2022.
“That’s pretty remarkable,” Miami Police Chief Manny Morales said.
In a room down the hall from Morales’s office, police officers at computers are surrounded by 10-foot-wide video screens fed by a dizzying array of data. The department has 660 surveillance cameras and access to 6,000 vehicle license plate readers and feeds from homes of residents who allow the department access to their Ring doorbell cameras to give police eyes across the city.
Morales says it’s still early to tell, but he’s hopeful the resources brought in by Griffin and other recent transplants can help bring down crime across the board.
--With assistance from Felipe Marques, Fola Akinnibi, Anna Jean Kaiser and Bill Allison.
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